Tawna Fenske's Blog

January 20, 2015

I got it again yesterday.

Not "it" in the sense that you're thinking (though I suppose that's true, too – I'm a newlywed, after all).

No, I'm talking about the question I hear about five times a week from colleagues, fellow-authors, and the homeless guy watching me pick up dog doo during my morning walk:

How do you do it all?

While the homeless guy might have a different context for his question, most people are asking how I manage to balance having a day job, a personal life, a family, and writing career that's gone a little nutso in the last year (four romantic comedies published in 2014, and four more on the agenda for 2015).

I know a few of you are hoping I'll offer up the recipe for a secret formula I drink each morning to magically add an extra six hours to each day. Sadly, that's not the case (though the opposite may occur when consuming large quantities of Chianti).

Magic potions aside, here are a few things I can point to that buy me extra tidbits of time or give me the tools I need to balance this whole crazy mess.

No boob tubeI'm not talking about tube tops (though for the record, I can't wear those without looking like a misshapen hot dog). I'm talking about television. I can't actually recall making a conscious decision not to watch it, but about seven or eight years ago, I quit flipping the TV on to catch nightly reruns of Friends or the evening news. I was never a big TV fan anyway, and I never had cable, so this wasn't a huge hardship. Even so, it was eye-opening how much free time I suddenly had.

Not-so-coincidentally, that's about the time I got serious about writing.

Do I miss it? Not really. I still get together with girlfriends for an occasional tipsy viewing of The Bachelor, and my husband buys boxed sets of TV series like Dexter and Breaking Bad that we'll chip away at for a year or two by watching an episode on laundry folding night.

If the idea of giving up the boob tube makes you weep, don't feel bad. Everyone needs little indulgences, and if that's yours, rock on with your TV-watching self. Just look for other time-sucking elements to cut from your life. A pal recently gave up Facebook and said he's astounded by how much extra time he has now that he's not flipping through his phone every five minutes to see who commented on photos of his dinner.

Multi-task like a bossI'm very rarely doing only one thing at a time. When I walk the dog, I'm also catching up with my mom on the phone. When I'm on the phone with my agent, I'm clipping my toenails. When I do the dishes, I'm thinking through plot details for my next book. When I join my husband in the boudoir to build the beast with two backs, I'm thinking through the choreography of a sex scene I'm preparing to write.

I probably shouldn't have admitted that last one.

This blog post was written over the course of several lunch breaks at the day job. I brainstormed most of it in the car on my way to Barre class, dictating ideas to Siri on my phone as I drove. Incidentally, this post nearly contained the phrase, "nice turn signal, asshole!"

Whether you're struggling to build a writing career, or just trying to juggle a sane person's existence, multi-tasking is your friend. Just don't let me hear you peeing when we're on the phone.

Figure out where to flexDespite all my meticulous planning and time-saving strategies, life happens. On Monday, "life" was a puking kitten and a vet visit that took up more than two hours of my precious writing day.

That's why I always build extra cushions into my writing schedule. I mark my calendar with word count goals for every day I'll be writing. Then I try to keep myself 2,000 words ahead of that so when I'm derailed by vet visits or unexpected meetings or  lunchtime quickies  or computer trouble, I don't have as much ground to make up later.

Make plans and set goals, then take a step back. Think about where things could go off the rails, and set yourself up so you're not totally screwed if that happens.

Accept the ways you suckThere are many ways I suck, several of which are not suitable for sharing on this blog. One of the things I suck most at, however, is keeping track of my eyeglasses. They're a requirement for me to read or write, but I'm constantly losing them. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you I lose or break about 20 pairs a year.

So I have a choice here: I can get pissed off at myself and spend half my day searching for lost glasses and the other half insisting I'm going to change my sucky ways, or I can accept that this is who I am and work around my own faults.

Then I can go out and buy 15 new pairs of prescription eyeglasses from Zenni Optical for $6.95 each and scatter them everywhere in my home. Problem solved, self-flagellation avoided, and hours that would have otherwise been spent searching for eyeglasses are now diverted back into writing.

Got a bad habit that's eating up your time? Find creative ways to work with or work around your faults instead of expending the energy fighting yourself.

Don't let the big picture freak you outWhen my gentleman friend and I were planning our wedding last summer, we had a whiteboard for all the pressing items on our to do list. As the big day approached, our list grew to the point that our tiny wording required a magnifying glass so we'd know how to spend our weekend.

I hated that whiteboard. I still do.

That's why I like having two kinds of to do lists: The one that shows the big picture of everything I need to tackle in the coming weeks or months. Then I have a second one that includes the most immediate, pressing tasks, along with an assortment of minutia I include for the satisfaction of crossing a few things off the list.

Because nothing's more satisfying than checking off "take a shower" before noon on a writing day.

Play nice with othersOne of the most important lessons I've learned is that I can't do everything alone. Not only can't I do it, but I shouldn't.

Promoting yourself as an author can be tedious sometimes, but joining forces with another author to make puppet sex videos? Well that's just good, clean fun.

Same goes for picking up tips from people who are smarter than me. On Facebook last week, author Katee Robert shared a photo of her Erin Condren life planner. When I commented asking about it, Katee and authors Jessica Lemmon and Robin Covington immediately chimed in with organization tips and even a coupon code. My new life planner is on its way to me now, and I intend to be fabulously organized within the week.

Or I'll just play with the stickers. Whatever.

In any case, don't be afraid to solicit tips, buddy up on projects, or find other ways to rely on the collective experience and creativity of your peers. It makes life more fun, and it's nice to shoulder the burden with others.

Give yourself a breakNext to the "how do you do it all?" question, the second most common inquiry I field is "when are you going to quit your day job?" My usual answer is that they'll have to grab me by the hair and forcibly drag me from the building. It's partly because my day job involves getting paid to snowshoe or go standup paddleboarding or take journalists out to drink beer, but there's another reason, too.

About four years ago, I had a nine-month period where I did the stay-at-home author thing full-time. It was the least creative nine months of my life. By not getting out to interact with humans and experience life, I turned off the tap that allowed my creative juices to flow.

This is less about having a day job and more about maintaining some diversity in your day-to-day activities so your brain doesn't shrivel like a testicle in ice water. Take your kids to the park. Have beers with friends. Enjoy a nooner. Go for a hike. Make time for a paw in your butt crack.

Above all, don't get so wrapped up in your pursuit of a goal that you forget to fuel your soul and your mind.

How about you?So that's my long answer to a short question, but I don't claim to have all the answers. How do YOU manage to do it all? Please share in the comments!
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Published on January 20, 2015 17:21 • 74 views

January 12, 2015

These days, authors have to get pretty creative when it comes to book promotion. When Best Man for Hire came out two weeks ago, I covered my body in peanut butter and ran screaming through my neighborhood wearing a yellow fedora and a set of nipple tassels printed with scenes from the novel.

But the tassels kept getting stuck in the peanut butter, so people were reading the scenes out of order and learning the major plot twists before they even got to the first blowjob scene, which made several people angry enough to chase me through the streets with two-by-fours.

I narrowly escaped with my life.

To simplify things a bit, I decided to try a different form of promotion. I also partnered up with my fellow author Melia Alexander, since we shared the same release day and she's really good in a fist fight.

With the aid of my super-talented video producer husband, we created a series of four videos that made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube over the last couple weeks. In case you missed them (or if you just wanted to check them out again) here's a roundup.

Oh, and uh....you may not want to watch these with young children or judgmental co-workers in the room.

Video #1: How to get ready for a New Year's Eve kiss

Video #2: Why you should leave your mistletoe up all year long

Video #3: Puppets perform a sexy scene from my book, Best Man for Hire

Video #4: Puppets perform a sexy scene from Melia's book, Merger of the Heart

So there you have it – the promotional alternative to peanut butter and nipple tassels. Which one did you like best? Tell me in the comments and I'll enter you (wow, that sounds filthy) ahem! I'll enter you in a drawing for a signed copy of one of my other romantic comedies (your choice between Making Waves, Believe it or Not, and Frisky Business).

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Published on January 12, 2015 08:10 • 20 views

January 5, 2015

"Isn't it time for your annual women's exam?"
These were the tender words my husband spoke to me the other morning. The fact that he knows the timing of my yearly visit to the crotch doc is either an indication he pays close attention to my health and well-being, or that he takes a vested interest in my hoo-hah.
Whatever the case, I was hesitant to answer. "Kinda."
"Well, yeah. I mean I've made my appointment in January every year for the last couple decades, but I was thinking of changing it up this year and aiming for March. Or April. Or maybe May. June's nice...."
He was eyeing me skeptically at this point, which probably would have been a good time for me to offer up some logical-sounding explanation about a new medical study citing a need to coincide one's yearly exam with the blooming of the lilacs.
But I'm not a very good liar, nor do I have any interest in syncing my lady bits with flower petals, so I was forced to admit the truth.
"When I go to the crotch doc, they weigh me," I explained. "And when they weigh me, it's part of my permanent medical record. And when they do that in January – following two months of gluttonous holiday feasting – plus you figure my clothes are heavier in the winter and they always have me get on the scale before I dress down, I end up weighing five or ten pounds more than I would in the summertime."
By now he was staring at me like I'd just announced my intent to give up romance writing so I could campaign to be the next pope. "Are your medical records posted on your blog?"
"No," I admitted.
"Does anyone besides you or your doctor see them?"
"So let me get this straight," he said. "You'd rather die of cervical cancer than have a scale tell you what you weigh in January?"
I had to think about that for a minute. "Maybe?"
He's right in calling me out for a level of vanity I wish I didn't possess. I swear I'm not like that in most aspects of my life. I can run to the grocery store sans makeup and wearing pajama pants. I buy all my clothes at thrift stores. I consider it a major accomplishment if I run a brush through my hair or wash it more than twice a week.
So why this hangup about seeing the doctor's scale with a number that's a few pounds more than I want it to be? I'm not sure I can answer that, but at least I know I'm not alone. 
Last week I met up with some girlfriends at a local wine bar. As we sat studying the menu, the conversation turned to the inevitable winter weight gain we'd all experienced.
"I'm glad I can talk about this with you guys, because I don't want to mention it to my husband," one or the women confided.
"Yeah," I agreed. "Guys tend to rate discussions of weight gain right up there with conversations about testicle piercing."
"Well, yes," she said. "But also I'm thinking he might not have noticed, so I don't want to point it out and have him start noticing."
Across the table, another woman who'd just informed us she's training for a half-marathon sat nodding in agreement. "I don't complain about my weight to my husband because he'll get excited to have an excuse for the two of us to run more."
What's the deal? What is it about weight that makes perfectly sane, perfectly attractive, perfectly healthy women go a little nutso? I'm asking for real here. What's your theory? Do you find yourself feeling fretful about a few holiday pounds, or do you have bigger fish to fry?
Mmm, fried fish....that sounds good. Maybe with a side salad?
After I call my doctor, of course.
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Published on January 05, 2015 09:55 • 17 views

December 29, 2014

So I have a new book out today!

I just realized that's the fourth time I've typed that sentence in 2014, which makes me feel simultaneously proud, exhausted, and tingly in my swimsuit area.

The latter is probably just my natural state of being.

At any rate, Best Man for Hire is the third romantic comedy in my Front and Center series with Entangled Publishing, though you don't have to read the books in any particular order. You can start with  Best Man for Hire , since it's priced at only 99-cents during release week, or you can see if Amazon is still running the 99-cent sale on the first book, Marine for Hire (they were last time I checked).

In other words, you can currently buy two books in the series for less than you'd pay to watch a full-length porn in one of those video booths at an adult arcade. This way you don't have to worry about touching the doorknob or hearing creepy noises from the booth next to yours, and isn't that better?

So anyway, here are a few behind-the-scenes details about Best Man for Hire:

Those of you who've read Marine for Hire may remember that story was set on Kauai, while Fiancée for Hire (the second book in the series) took place mostly in Mexico. We're back on Kauai again for Best Man for Hire, which may or may not be an indication that I use my writing career as an excuse to visit my parents at their home on Kauai at least once a year.There's a scene in  Best Man for Hire  where my heroine sustains a painful centipede bite on her butt cheek in the midst of a sexual escapade. While I've never had that specific experience, I did have a rather terrifying incident where I donned my bathrobe to discover a centipede lurking in the sleeve. I avoided being bitten by tearing off my robe and shrieking like a lunatic while dancing around my parents' hallway in my birthday suit. You're welcome for that visual.There's another scene where my heroine tells the hero an embarrassing childhood story about throwing up in her underwear at school. That story comes straight from the pages of my own middle school experience, and you can read all about it here.
I guess I should tell you what the book is about instead of blathering on about bug bites and vomit, huh? Here's the blurb:
Anna Keebler makes a living being unconventional. A wedding planner who specializes in more…unusual ceremonies, Anna’s client list includes everything from nudists to paintballers to Little Red Riding Hood enthusiasts. So when her photographer up and quits during a wedding blitz in Hawaii, Anna makes an unconventional decision. She hires a hot Marine to be her new photographer. 
Little does she know, Grant Patton is the best man in one of her weddings. He’s so perfect he’s practically a Boy Scout—if Boy Scouts were big, ripped Marines with gorgeous gray eyes, and good at, oh, everything. Especially sex. In fact, his only flaw seems to be that he hates marriage as much as she does. But Anna suspects the sexy Boy Scout routine is a cover, and if he wants this thing between them to be about more than sex, Grant must reveal the dark past he’s fought so hard to hide…

So there you have it. If you're intrigued, you can plop down 99-cents this week and read the whole book for the price of a condom in a gas station bathroom. If you're not intrigued, that's okay, too. Just try not to touch anything in that porn booth, okay?
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Published on December 29, 2014 02:15 • 31 views

December 15, 2014

I’ve had neck trouble for as long as I can remember. While it’s never bothered me enough to do much for treatment, an upcoming insurance switch—combined with turning 40 in August—prompted me to book an appointment a few weeks ago.

They referred me to a reputable neck and back clinic known for targeted physical therapy and impressive results, and I knew I was in trouble before I even finished the paperwork.

Poor penmanship and an ill-timed hiccup caused me to put an odd space between the letters as I scrawled the word “therapist.” Concerned I’d start things off on the wrong foot, I approached the receptionist with the paperwork clutched in one hand.

“Just so you know,” I told her, “I didn’t mean to write ‘the rapist’ here. I’m not implying anything untoward about the staff.”

She blinked at me, then stared at the form. “I—um—I’ll let them know.”

My non-rapist therapist turned out to be a friendly woman who started things off with a series of questions about my hobbies and career.

“A romance author?” she replied when I told her. “Really? That’s fascinating.”

“Kind of,” I admitted. “I write romantic comedy.”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

“It means I write funny smut,” I explained. “I like to write things that simultaneously make you giggle and tingle in your swimsuit area.”

I thought that was a pretty apt description worthy of ending up on a business card, but she just looked at me oddly a moment before consulting her clipboard.

 “OK then, it sounds like you’ve had neck pain for quite awhile,” she said. “Was there any inciting injury?”

“Not that I can recall.”

“Let’s go through a series of movements and you can tell me if you have difficulty performing them. Ready?”

I nodded, which—for the record—was not a difficult movement. But when she began to bob her head front to back in a rhythmic fashion, I fought the urge to giggle.

“Can you do this?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I said, thrusting my head back and forth with great enthusiasm. “You’re not the first person to ask me that today.”



“OK then,” she said, ceasing her head bob. “Any difficulty swallowing?”

I grimaced, trying hard not to snicker. “You’re setting this up for me, aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?” “Sorry.” I cleared my throat. “Nope, no trouble swallowing.”

She scribbled something on her clipboard, and I squinted to see if I could make out the words “sexual deviant” anywhere in her notes.

“Let’s talk about sleep positions,” she said.

“Let’s!” I agreed, always happy to discuss any activity that takes place in bed.

“Do you like to be on your back, on your side, on your stomach?”

“Yes!” I said, then reconsidered the question. “Wait, you mean for sleeping?”

I admitted that I usually start out on my back or side, but somehow end up flopped on my stomach with my hands tucked under my hips. She explained that particular position is one of the worst things I can do to my neck, and that I should make every effort to stay on my back or side.

“We don’t want you to wake up with any weird kinks,” she said.

“I’m a romance author,” I pointed out. “I’d be out of a job if I didn’t wake up with any weird kinks.”

We finished our first session without any further incident—save one small snicker when she asked if I had any objection to restraints—and I left with three more appointments scheduled in the coming weeks.

I’d like to say I’ll be on my best behavior for future visits. But what does that really mean, anyway?
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Published on December 15, 2014 08:33 • 14 views

December 8, 2014

Our longtime pet-sitter pal is college student who recently put out a call on Facebook:

I am writing a paper about love languages and I need 4 couples to take a quick survey for me about you and your partner's love language.

I'm pretty sure the fine print in my romance author contract requires me to respond affirmatively to such requests, so I told her my husband and I would be delighted to do it. I even did my best to maintain an air of professionalism by not pointing out that we're always delighted to do it.

Within an hour, she'd messaged us the quiz. She instructed us to take it separately and not share our responses with one another. We were in the middle of dinner at the time, so we spent the next 30 minutes giggling and shielding our papers in the crooks of our elbows while we took turns refilling each other's wine glasses.

The questions centered around how we prefer to express and receive affection, and options ranged from "tell me I'm hot" to "buy me stuff" to "grab my butt."

I might be paraphrasing here.

It came as a surprise to absolutely no one that we both ranked physical affection as our top thing to give and receive. It's possible we were groping each other under the table while we filled out the quizzes.

After we submitted our answers, our pal replied with a few follow-up questions, including one that read, "If love is like an empty gas tank, is your partner filling up your tank by speaking to you in your love language?"

I snickered as I typed my reply. "Oh, yeah. He fills me up, all right. Wait, what was the question?"

So much for my facade of professionalism. Still, it was refreshing to see how closely aligned our responses were in terms of how we like to show and receive affection. As both a human and a romance author (which aren't always the same thing) I recognize that misunderstandings in this realm are as common as heaving bosoms.

When you write romance novels, your job isn't to spend 350 pages showing how two people get together. It's to spend 350 pages keeping them apart, but convincing the reader (and the characters) that they should be together.

Keeping them apart requires some sort of major conflict. It can be fairly obvious, like woman with a well-warranted desire never to date another military man, paired up with a Marine sniper disguising his identity so he can protect the woman and her twins while serving as their nanny (that's Marine for Hire in a nutshell). It can be also be two people with very personal reasons for pledging never to fall in love or marry (pretty much the backbone of both Fiancée for Hire and my upcoming Dec. 29 release, Best Man for Hire).

It's also common – both in real life and in romance novels – to have mismatched love languages as the cornerstone of conflict. Surely you've seen it before? One person is convinced that love means showering a partner with affection and quality time, while the other believes in showing love by working long hours to provide financial stability. While neither is "right" or "wrong," it can be downright disastrous when you're not aligned.

Which is one reason I'm pretty grateful my husband and I don't seem terribly tongue-tied when it comes to our own brand of love language.

"It seems you guys speak multiple love languages with each other," our pal reported a few days later when she compiled her research. "Both of your top 4 scores only varied within a point or 3."

Indeed. Sometimes it all comes down to how well and how often you score.

So what's your love language of choice? How do you prefer to show or receive affection? Please share!
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Published on December 08, 2014 02:00 • 13 views

December 2, 2014

We spent a glorious weekend palming balls to make sure they were hanging right and contemplating the best way to lift up the skirt and get the kitty off.
We had to lift up the skirt to get the kitty off.
In other words, it's Christmas tree time.

As we got out the boxes packed with ornaments and lights, it dawned on me this is the fourth Christmas we've spent together. The guy who started out as my gentleman friend is now my husband, and I still giggle sometimes when I use that word. It makes me feel like a second grader huddled in the school library looking up words like "intercourse" and "areola" in a battered dictionary. I'm pretty sure I'm getting away with something deliciously naughty, but I'm not certain what it is.

This funny feeling is evident when I look at the two large plastic totes that hold our ornaments. There's a purple one and a green one, and I remember exactly how we came to own them. It was a week after that first Christmas together, and our relationship was like a precious and fragile ornament we wanted to swaddle in a protective layer of bubble wrap.

Because exactly one year before that, I was in the midst of a devastating divorce that reached the pinnacle of awfulness around the holidays. Three years before that – in a completely separate, but startlingly similar set of circumstances – my gentleman friend went through the same experience. To say we both bore holiday battle scars would be an understatement akin to suggesting I'm mildly fond of having my stocking stuffed.

So there we were at the end of our first Christmas together, feeling deliriously in love, hopelessly optimistic, and understandably guarded. We shared an address and a Christmas tree and a plan to stay together for the long-haul, but we also shared a healthy dose of cynicism. When it came time to pack up our ornaments for the season, we bit our lips and stole nervous glances at each other.

"Do you think it's okay to store our ornaments separately?" I asked.

His relief was palpable. "I'm glad you said something. Yeah, let's not combine them. Not that I'm not all-in with this relationship, but–"

"I know," I said, resisting the urge to make an all-in joke. "Believe me, I know."

And I did. We both knew the heartbreak of divvying up Christmas ornaments and automobiles, pets and plates. We were fresh and hopeful and cautious and raw. We had the urge to guard our hearts the way you handle a hand-painted eggshell adored with glitter and dangling from gossamer ribbon.

That's a funny analogy, because guess what we made that first Christmas together? We blew the guts out of a dozen eggs as we sat clustered around the dining room table with his two children and the two 27-year-old housemates I'd taken in to help pay the mortgage after my ex left. Our odd little six-member family decorated those pristine white shells with cheap paint and sub-par art skills. We made poop jokes and pipe-cleaner snowflakes, and at the end of it all, we lost track of who created what. Our artwork and our lives got mixed up together in one lovely, tangled mess.

Which is pretty much what those boxes look like now. Sure, there's still some division between his keepsake ornaments and mine, but we do it less out of an abundance of caution and more to remind ourselves where we came from. The rag-tied camel I packed out of the Sahara Desert is tucked beside the ornament my new stepdaughter made from gold-painted macaroni back when someone besides me got to call her daddy "husband."

Is it messy? Absolutely. Is it scary? Sometimes. Is it wonderful? Without a doubt.

Isn't that what love is?

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Published on December 02, 2014 19:40 • 11 views

November 26, 2014

I've seen a lot of folks on the interwebz sharing lists of things they feel grateful for this holiday season. It's given me the urge to jump on the big, throbbing bandwagon, mostly because I wanted the excuse to type that phrase.

Kenny and Luna. Because we didn't already
have enough cats in our house.In no particular order, here are 10 things for which I feel extremely grateful this Thanksgiving:

Batteries (and devices in which to put them)Kittens. Especially the ones that fit in my purse.A nice, earthy Oregon Pinot Noir in a Riedel wineglass made just for Oregon Pinot (yeah, that's a thing).A new husband who decides the 44-monthaversary of our first date is not only cause for celebration, but a good reason to stage a one-man concert in our living room, complete with candles, flowers, wine, and a serenade of songs he performed just for me. OK, the dog got to listen, too.  My private concert celebrating 44-months of togetherness.Tall boots, fleece-lined leggings, and the fact that I never have to wear pants if I don't want to.The fact that 2014 will be the first year since 2007 (the date I made the choice to leave a well-paying corporate job with long hours, gradually moving down the ladder in terms of pay and time-commitment to the part-time job I've held for the last four years, all with the hope of furthering my writing career) that I will finally, finally make or exceed what I used to earn when I had a regular full-time job. The writers among you will understand that's kind of a big deal. The non-writers might scratch your heads and go, "wait, you mean authors aren't all killin' it with the big bucks?" Two amazing stepkids who seem genuinely impressed (or at least do a good imitation of being impressed) when they spot one of my books on the shelf at a local retailer.Cast iron skillets (my new culinary obsession)Parents, cousins, siblings, in-laws, out-laws, co-workers, publishing colleagues, friends, and random strangers who've been a constant source of love, laughter, and support throughout my life.Readers. Hell, even if you don't read my books, I'm grateful to everyone who routinely picks up a book and gets lost in the pages. You keep the publishing industry going and the human race functioning in a thoughtful, creative, connected fashion.  Entangled Publishing loves readers, too, which is why
they're offering a killer Black Friday sale on a bunch
of their titles (including my book
Marine for Hire for only 99-cents.
Click here for details.I'm probably forgetting a few things, which I'm just going to go ahead and blame on item #3 above. So what are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving? Please share!
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Published on November 26, 2014 11:44 • 9 views

November 17, 2014

One of the most common questions I've fielded since my author career took off is when I plan to quit my day job.

After I stop laughing, I usually point out that my duties as the part-time PR and communications manager for my city's tourism bureau include taking journalists out for beer tours and snowshoeing, or sampling hamburgers all over town so I can write about the best ones. To get me to quit, they will need to drag me from the building by my hair.

Last spring, the marketing team at a nearby luxury resort invited me to bring my family for a weekend visit. They wanted to make sure I was knowledgeable enough about the resort's amenities to describe them to visiting journalists. As you might imagine, this was a great hardship.

To say this place was beyond my regular budget is akin to suggesting it might be outside my authorial comfort zone to write books about quantum chromodynamics and the interactions of subnuclear particles.

On our second night there, my gentleman friend and I were checking the kids in at the activity center when a well-dressed couple walked through the door. Gliding across the beautiful tiled lobby in a cloud of expensive perfume, the woman remarked to the concierge that they were headed to the poolside bar for a cocktail.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the concierge informed her grimly. "That bar closed thirty minutes ago, but both restaurants are open with fully-stocked bars and expansive mountain views."

The woman gaped at him. Then she turned to her husband with a plaintive wail. "Why does this keep happening to us?!"

There was a moment of silence while everyone in the lobby digested her words. Even the woman herself seemed to realize what a pungent cloud of  privileged melodrama she'd just released into the air.

She gave an uneasy laugh. "I mean, we came by last night and it wasn't open, and then–" she stopped, sensing she'd lost her audience. "We'll go try the lodge." They hurried away, her high heels clicking across the lobby. 

My gentleman friend turned to his offspring. "See that, kids? That's what entitlement looks like."

The teachable moment extended beyond the children. In the six months since then, it's become a catch phrase in our household. Whenever one of us is poised to descend into a pit of pointless, hand-wringing, self-despair, someone will break out the histrionic wail.

"Why does this keep happening to us?!"

It's a reminder to keep things in perspective. To remember that whether you've burned dinner or stubbed your toe or mistakenly deleted the sex scene you spent all afternoon writing, at least you have dinner or toes or sex scenes.

Not everyone is so lucky.

It reminds me of this video campaign that circulated a year ago featuring impoverished, third-world citizens reading a variety of first-world woes. If you want a little perspective about the difficulties in your own life, take one minute to check it out.

Is there anything that routinely helps you to take a step back and gain a new perspective on the things you might perceive as major problems? Please share! 

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Published on November 17, 2014 02:30 • 11 views

November 10, 2014

In the years since my romantic comedies started hitting bookstore shelves, I’ve had a lot of people ask my secret.

When I confessed my preferred sex lube or the location of each tattoo on my body, they realized they needed to ask more specifically about my writing secrets. Do I follow a strict schedule? Use special software? Sacrifice virgins by throwing them into an active volcano?

The answer is yes, no, and where the hell am I going to find virgins?

Bindi, the magical plot dog.But I do have a secret tool that makes me a stronger, more competent writer, and I'm going to share it with you now: I have a magical plot dog.

I know, I know....some of you are skeptical such a beast exists, but I can prove it's true.

The way my aforementioned writing schedule works, I have a couple full days each week devoted strictly to writing. I have specific word count goals for those days, and I can get pretty testy if lunchtime rolls around and I'm nowhere near the mid-point on the day's goal. So testy, in fact, that I've been known to turn to my dog, Bindi, with an apology.

"I know I said we'd go for a w-a-l-k at lunch, but I'm stuck on a sticky plot point and I'm way behind and I've gotta meet this deadline," I'll tell her. "Can we skip it today?"

And my dog will look at me, shake her head, and reply. "You idiot. First of all, I learned to spell walk about five years ago. And second of all, don't you know that taking me for a walk is exactly what you need to get unstuck right now?"

The thing is, she's right. She can spell walk, though she can't actually talk. Well, not unless I've had too many glasses of wine.

But she also has a point about the writing. Just last week, I was tangled up in a plot snarl I thought I might never escape. I'm on deadline with a book that absolutely, positively must be finished by the Monday before Thanksgiving or my editor will cut off my thumbs and sew them to my forehead. Despite what you might imagine, that sort of stress is not conducive to good writing.

When lunchtime rolled around with no solution in in sight, I did something dumb. I didn't skip the walk – hey, I'm not that dumb – but I did decide to multi-task by calling my mom for a quick chat. And as much as I enjoyed our visit, I came back to my writing desk, sat down, and stared at the screen.

Nothing happened.

I turned to my magical plot dog. "What the hell? I still don't know how to write this scene."

Bindi sighed and shook her head. "You're a moron."

"Oh yeah?" I fumed. "Well you lick your butt."

"You're just jealous."

Again, she probably had a point. Not about the butt-licking, but the fact that I should know better by now. A walk with the magical plot dog is a sacred thing. You can't spend the time chatting with a friend or fiddling with your phone. You have to let your mind wander freely while the fresh air and nature have their way with your fumbling author brain.

There's real science behind this concept. According to a study titled Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings , "Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes.... Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system."

Or you can just say you've got a magical plot dog. Whatever.

I shut down my laptop that evening with no solution to the plot snarl and a word count that was lower than what I'd hoped for. The next morning, I got up early to walk the dog. I left my phone at home, and by the time I reached the end of my street, I'd figured out the whole damn scene.

For the record, the dog might not be a mandatory part of the process. If you don't have your own canine companion, it's possible a mere walk around the block could have the same effect. Just a few minutes of fresh air and escape from the tethers of technology can work wonders on your brain. It's the solitude and the change of scenery that makes the magic happen.

Just don't tell my magical plot dog, okay? She'll get pissed. 
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Published on November 10, 2014 02:30 • 9 views